Northern Ireland Economy Minister Simon Hamilton has categorically refused to stop security and justice projects that the Government is conducting in Egypt and Bahrain.
This refusal comes at the heel of a letter sent by international human rights group Reprieve that claimed that a Northern Ireland Government-owned company, NI-CO, was involved in security and justice projects in Egypt and Bahrain but turned a blind eye to the torture and death penalties meted out to political and other inmates in prisons.
Hamilton stated that the responsibility to oversee the projects rested with the EU and the UK Foreign Office. The projects, which are worth millions of pounds, have been funded by the EU.
However, the boss of NI-CO is responsible to the Permanent Secretary of the Economy Department. Hence, the Northern Ireland Government is accountable for the projects, which also involve several British private security contractors.
UK Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood did not give a clear answer when questioned in Parliament whether he had personally informed the Northern Ireland Government about the risks pertaining to the projects undertaken in Egypt and Bahrain.
NI-CO received close to £1 million from the UK Government in 2015 for the projects, which saw the company training about 400 prison guards manning a death row jail in Bahrain. Reprieve claims that the jail houses innocent prisoners slated for execution as confessions were extracted from these prisoners under duress and torture. However, the details of the project are under wraps, and now Reprieve will be lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner to investigate human rights violations.
NI-CO is also part of a €10 million package to supply a metal cage and steel bars to a juvenile court in Egypt. An Irish juvenile is awaiting trial there on charges that could sentence him to death.
Reprieve Director Maya Foa stated that it was alarming that the Minister had refused to stop the security and justice projects in the Middle East where innocent prisoners are at risk of being executed. She said that the Northern Ireland Government should take responsibility for the atrocities rather than stating that the onus lies with the UK Government.